With payment and interest in his latest Internet novel dwindling, horrormeister Stephen King has decided to stop writing The Plant at chapter six to focus on two conventional books, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
King assistant Marsha DeFilippo said the author would finish the thriller eventually, but was under a deadline with Random House to complete the sequel to Talisman with co-author Peter Straub. She said he also has a "moral obligation" to himself and to his fans to write volume five in The Dark Tower series.
When King launched The Plant over the Internet in July, he pledged to keep writing only if at least 75 percent of its readers complied with his honor-system payment plan provided by Amazon.com Inc.
Before downloading a chapter, readers clicked on Web links and agreed to pay by credit card, check or money order. After that, they received directions on how to download at http://www.stephenking.com.
King charged $1 for each download of the first three chapters of the book about a plant that terrorizes a small paperback publisher, and raised the price to $2 with the fourth chapter.
The first chapter generated more than 40,000 downloads by readers, with about 78 percent paying $1, Amazon reported at the time. But the number of downloads and the percentage of paying readers decreased with each chapter, DeFilippo said.
"Part one had a lot of novelty and hoopla so we received a lot of response," she said.
Through Nov. 19 about 112,000 people downloaded chapters of The Plant, but only about half paid for it, DeFilippo said.
King pointed out to his readers that the first eight installments of The Plant would cost only $13, less than a hardback book with a 40 percent discount.
"Some people were feeling that it was overpriced because it wasn't a physical book," DeFilippo said. "They thought it should be considerably less than a book you could buy (in a store)."
But she said the project was profitable, and denied he was abandoning it because of nonpayment. DeFilippo said King made his decision to stop writing two weeks before he learned only 46 percent of the people who downloaded the fourth chapter actually paid for it.
"(Installments) five and six wouldn't be put up, if he had been disappointed with the payments," DeFilippo added. "He plans on doing this again. He certainly hasn't been discouraged by this."
The fifth chapter is online and the sixth chapter of The Plant will be available on the Web for free beginning Dec. 18, she said.
King, the best-selling author of books such as Carrie, The Shining and Salem's Lot, put a scare into book publishers because his digital project threatened to set a precedent for bypassing them and going directly to readers.
King's popularity is a powerful force. His Internet novella The Bullt, for example, racked up 400,000 orders in March during its first 24 hours on the Internet.
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